Far to go by Alison Pick *WOW!*

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Far to go
She nodded yes. Her jaw was clenched shut. After everything they'd shared, what did Pavel take her for? Something that could be forsaken along with the silverware and linens? He should have known better, she thought. She'd been taken advantage of too many times already. She would not be made the fool, not again, not this time.

Imagine if a war is brewing around you, but you don't have the knowledge of WW2, its history, causes, and its ultimate two tragedies (the Holocaust and the atom bombings) and their repercussions. Imagine that you are not lucky enough to have read about what Hitler did, from your living room or classroom, and rail against his actions in indignation, disgust and disbelief. Imagine that WW2 never happened - instead it is only going to happen, soon, in exactly the same way and we are going to be puppets in Hitler's hands, again. As a member of a designated "inferior" race, would you trust the people who stood by you all these years - friends, neighbors, colleagues? As a non-member of the said "inferior" race, would you betray your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and even little kids, all because a self-styled leader is brandishing a supremacy theory? This is what Alison Pick's Far to Go asks the reader. Not what choices you would make now, but what you would have done then. It puts you in the shoes of the people who had no idea about what is unfolding about them, what is going to happen.

Far to go follows two story lines - one is set during the year leading to the start of WW2 and the other is set in the present. The events of the past are narrated mostly from the perspective of Marta, a non-Jewish nanny staying with a Jewish family - Pavel and Anneliese Bauer and their son Pipik. The present is written in second-person narrative with the identity of the characters not revealed until the last few chapters. The Bauers are an affluent and secular Czech family, who have not practiced their religion in years. At the time of the events in the book, however, in 1938-39, having a Jewish grandparent was enough to make a person Jewish in the eyes of the SS officers.

At the beginning of the book, Pavel is telling Marta about an anti-Semitic attack that his brother faced. Marta is very confused by all the anti-Jewish sentiments floating around her. She likes and respects the Bauers, and looks after Pepik as if he was her own son. But when Ernst, Pavel's colleague, whom Marta meets secretly at night, talks about the inferiority of the Jewish people, she is truly unsure of what to believe. On the one hand, she can't fathom how such a thing could be true. Aren't they just like her? On the other hand, she wants to believe Ernst, wants to impress him. And she thinks there there possibly is some difference between the Jews and her.

Alison Pick I've wondered many times how people could just accept Hilter's dogma, when so many people were being killed, many disappearing into camps. I knew the facts - how easy it is to be swayed, how many young people wanted to "belong" and be seen doing something important, how they wanted to get over the WW1 failure. But it is one thing reading about it and a totally different thing actually feeling it or living it. I thought that Far To Go helped me answer those questions in the best way - by putting me in the shoes of Marta. She is no perfect person, just like many others during that period. She has considered Hilter's theories, committed a truly life-changing act towards the Bauers as an act of defiance, and not tried to rescue the Bauers' from a swindler. I so wanted her to stand up and tell the truth. In the end, I could understand why she did what she did. It was not right, but it was the only way she would have done it.

Far to go also explores the Jewish identity, or rather the meaning of being one. Not in the religious or theoretical sense, but more in the sense of the believers' actions. The Bauers were assimilated Jews - they were as non-Jewish as could be. They didn't follow the Jewish customs, they celebrated Christmas. And yet, the arrival of Hitler triggers something in them. Pavel becomes increasingly proud of his Jewish heritage and opposes his wife's desire to baptize Pepik. Anneliese, on the other hand, distances herself further from the faith. It soon becomes evident that they had never had a conversation about their religion.

Rather than being just another WW2 fiction, Far to go is actually about the Kindertransport, a program by which nearly 10,000 children were sent without their parents out of Nazi-occupied areas. Pepik too is put on the train, but the process by which the Bauers managed to get Pepik on was not straightforward. They suffered a lot, and struggled with the many choices they and Marta made. The events of this book have relation to the author's background - Alison Pick's own Jewish grandparents left Czechoslovakia to Canada without telling their children that they were Jewish. The dedication section of the book has a list of 12 people, 8 of whom died between 1942 and 1944. No guessing was needed to know how or why most, if not all, must have died. Even though it's no secret that millions lost their lives during WW2, seeing so many members of the same family on the same page is painful. Two of them were not even past 10 years of age.

When the book started off in the present in the second-person narrative, I was worried. I'm not a fan of that form of narration, but surprisingly, I thought it worked well here. I myself write in second-person sometimes when I write my reviews, if I want to project my experience on to the reader, so that you can be the one living the book instead of me. In that same respect, I thought it worked really well here, because obviously I didn't put the book down. The narration is occasionally interrupted by a few letters - many of them truly heart-breaking.

TLC Book Tours
Alison Pick's writing pulled me in, right from the start. There is a frank bluntness about her prose that makes you want to keep turning the page. She examines emotions in a very unflinching manner; there are no perfect characters here, everyone is flawed. Even though Pavel is mostly a good person, Pipik an innocent child, and Marta a poor girl who just knows what she hears, it is Anneliese who I most sympathized with. She could be selfish, appear uncaring, show disregard towards the help, but she was willing to do anything, even lose her honor, to save her family. It was sad. Overall, I strongly recommend this book. It is beautiful, poignant and very powerful! 

I received this book for free from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.


15 comments:

ashbrux said...

It's great that you ended up liking this so much even though it rubbed you the wrong way at first. I feel like I've read a lot of books about WWII recently so I'll save this one, but I'm definitely putting it on my list for later.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy... said...

Wow. It sounds amazing.

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

I used to wonder the same thing about the Germans - how could they just sit and watch that happen, but then I realized there are a lot of people in the world today doing the same thing. This book sounds fascinating!

Sandra said...

Great review. Far To Go sounds like a must-read for me. I've put it on hold at my library. Thanks for reviewing it and bringing it to my attention.

hcmurdoch said...

I am so going to get this book! WW2? Holocaust? Great writing and characters? Sign me up. Thank you for the awesome review. The question of "what would you do" is such a tough one. I actually talked to one of my German professors in college about it since she lived in Germany during the Holocaust. Very fascinating

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I have had the same thoughts regarding WWII and what people did or didn't do. So when you say, "But it is one thing reading about it and a totally different thing actually feeling it or living it," I can totally understand that.

This sounds like a very powerful book. Thanks for such a great review!

book journey said...

Wow is right. I am just coming off of reading The boy In The Striped Pajamas and seeing the movie again so do not think I could handle this one right now... but definitely has my attention for a future read.

Athira / Aths said...

I have been seeing too much of WW2 fiction around lately, so I'm mostly hesitant as well. I'm glad that this one worked so well - I do hope you get a chance to read it sometime!

Athira / Aths said...

I know, right? It is amazing!

Athira / Aths said...

You're right, there are so many people that just sit by and watch, and many others who say it's wrong and still do nothing. We are so used to believing that we have no influence. I'm glad that this book gave me a different perspective to understand.

Athira / Aths said...

You're welcome! I would love to hear your thoughts on this book once you've read it.

Athira / Aths said...

I've been reading so much WW2 lit lately, because I just could not understand how it happened - all those people just sat by while another population marched to the camps? What kind of humans are we that we can condemn another to death by our silence? This book really gave me a different perspective, and I can't wait to hear your thoughts.

Athira / Aths said...

You're welcome! Thanks for having me on the tour!

Athira / Aths said...

I can understand that. I can't sit through 2 impacting WW2 books/movies in sequence. I need to read Striped Pajamas sometime - I've heard so much about it.

Eilis Barry said...

Great review. I've just finished this book and couldn't put it down. Alison Pick explains very powerfully how it was that so many people did not stand up to the Nazis.